Woestina and Mariaville elementary schools are shutting down at the end of the school year to save about $1.5 million.
The Schalmont Board of Education on Monday unanimously voted to close both buildings, which was one of the recommendations from a consultant’s report on improving efficiency in the district.
The district’s kindergarten through fourth-grade students will go to Jefferson Elementary School. Fifth-graders will be sent to the middle school/high school campus and will continue to ride on the elementary bus.
Mariaville parents were especially disappointed in the decision. Carmella Cervera, whose children include a first-grade boy and a girl heading into kindergarten, worried about the safety of her daughter.
“She’s 30 pounds. Put her on a school bus with fifth-graders. I’m not quite sure how this is going to work.”
She also believes the decision was pre-determined and the months of community roundtable discussions were pointless.
“This wasn’t an open forum. This was a dictatorship.”
Parent Noelle VanAlstyne-Rosa, who has a fourth-grader and 10th-grader, said she chose Mariaville because it was a small school.
Jeanette Ray said the decision was unfair. Her child, who cries every morning when she gets on the bus, will now have to travel 45 minutes to school. She wished that somebody from the board would deliver the news personally to the affected students.
“Make sure you let them know. They were a dollar sign — not a kid.”
Other speakers questioned whether fifth-graders would be emotionally ready to be in the middle school environment, whether the district was taking into account future growth and how much is owed on bonds taken out to improve the buildings.
A couple of speakers spoke in favor of the closure because it will prevent taxes from skyrocketing further.
Board members were in agreement that it was a difficult but necessary decision in the wake of decreasing state aid and declining enrollment. The district is facing a $1.1 million reduction in state aid. Its enrollment has dropped by about 350 students to 1,900 and it has cut about 10 percent of its staff.
“This is probably the toughest vote I’ll have to make in 16 years,” said Sandra Beloncik, whose children attended Woestina.
“I think everyone is going to pull together and make this a workable option,” board member Greg Campoli said.
Board member Michael DellaVilla said the fiscal crisis facing the state tied the district’s hands.
“We simply can’t afford to maintain the schools. It’s a difficult decision but it’s something we had to make to make up a $2 million-plus shortfall in the budget.”
Robert Sheehan noted that change has permeated the district. He was part of the last sixth-grade class to graduate from Pine Grove, which is no longer a school. Maintaining the district’s programs matters most to him.
“I have to look at what’s more important — a student’s mind or bricks and mortar?”
President Kevin Thompson also agreed that he did not want to eliminate valuable programs that would jeopardize the college or career readiness of its graduates.
“I believe with the closure of these two schools that we can preserve the content, the programing, the quality and the education that’s provided to every student in the district,” he said.
Kelsey said it is too soon to tell exactly how many jobs would be eliminated. The consultant’s report estimated five full-time positions. Job losses would be based on seniority.
Middle school Principal Michael Kondratowicz and Jefferson Elementary Principal Joby Gifford will serve as co-chairmen of a committee that will discuss how fifth-graders will transition to the middle school. Everything from room configuration to lunch time procedures will be discussed, according to Superintendent Valerie Kelsey. Meetings will take place in March and April with updates provided on the district’s website.
The board also established a committee that will work to find ways to reuse the buildings. Another committee has been set to determine whether sixth-graders should ride the bus with the older or younger students and whether there should be a fifth/sixth grade intermediate structure. The committee would report back in December with recommendations for the 2012-13 school year.
Both buildings are relatively new.
Residents in 2000 approved a $32 million referendum to renovate all the district’s schools. Woestina was completely rebuilt in 2004 and most of Mariaville is new construction.
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